All around the almond trees the air is zumming and thrumming to the sound of a billion bees. A lot, anyway. It seems to me a serious, responsible noise, one which is at once soothing and uplifting, a constant, reassuring springtime background to complement the brash bright flowers and, when you can remember to grant yourself the time, a gentle hubbub to inspire fine thoughts.
They are altogether grand little fellows, the bees. Good eggs. Selfless and dedicated, you just get the sense that a bee wouldn’t let you down as long as you don’t muck him around too much. A bit unimaginative they are , all that flying in straight lines and hive subservience and so on, but they’re reliable and gentle and their presence deeply pleasing, unless one decides to join you in bed, that is, or hides in your sandwich.
So I like bees. They’re not spiteful and random and vicious like some wasps I have known, but strangely serene. So too I enjoy all that persistent buzzing around and appreciate their endeavours in the field of pollination, which steadfast task incidentally helps keep the human race in fruit and veg. Honey too , of course, the only foodstuff I can think of that is somehow faintly decadent and yet still good for you.
Meanwhile, an agreeable peculiarity is that their greatest enemy here is rather glamorous, with Mother Nature seeing fit to send their chief tormentors dressed in the finest feathers she can find. Seriously, have you ever seen a bee eater close up ? Fabulous. Incredible balletic fliers who must disembowel their prey mid-flight lest it sting them, these lovely assassins burble happily and sing like nightingales, (well, not exactly like nightingales obviously) and are as ostentatious as they come, all reds, yellows and kingfisher blues. Little consolation to the bee, I suppose, that its killer is a looker, it’s a bit like covering the can of insecticide in Christian Dior and silk, but it means you can forgive them, kind of, for supping on your favourite insect, in a way that you may not forgive say, a crow, were he to do likewise.
And as for their favoured haunt this month, the almond trees, there can be few finer sights on this fair earth than to see them now in bloom against the snow and blue, blue sky, the most fragile, perfect flowers in Christendom toughing it out against the wind and cold a mile up in the high sierras.
You see the thing with almond trees is that you might imagine that they’re a bit soft, with their delicate pink petals, poetical prettiness, exquisite scent and ephemeral confetti blossom and all that, but you’d be wrong, for beneath that camp façade is a tree that’s hard as nails. A desert tree that requires but little water, whose resilient black trunks stand defiant like van Gogh squiggles against the bare winter hillsides, and whose timber is like iron. So beware, lumberjack, for if with an axe on some cold winter day you should strike at just the wrong spot then your arm will recoil and quake as in a scene from Tom and Jerry. These guys are tough nuts.
So these efflorescent macho dandies are the perfect host for the tireless bee. Year on year the two combine and offer up their yield to us, and do so beautifully. At least for now. Spain is currently the world’s second largest producer of almonds after California, but the US state is suffering from the dreaded Colony Collapse Disorder which has led to all kinds of shortages, to the extent that half a million hives now need to be trucked in by so –called pollination brokers.
Thus this morning as I sit enchanted in the ancient groves of Granada, the breeze carrying with it the murmur of the bees and the perfume of the petals they adore, I find it hard to imagine the disquiet and lamentation that must be the fate of the American farmers, but hope, selfishly, that we will not share their distress here, and that the perfection of the orchards of Andalusia will persist a while longer.
Ojala, as the Spanish say. Inshallah….. God willing.